King Ralph (USA, 1991)

king-ralph-movie-poster-1991-1020235208Directed by: David S. Ward. If you’re not familiar with this forgotten gem of post-Thatcherite absurdity, it’s a film about a low-class American slob who, through extremely unlikely and barely-believable circumstances, becomes the King of England. It’s a great big old fish-out-of-water story, with the old slant on the laid-back American vs uptight British society trope, tied in with a critique of old-world British classism, with a few other elements thrown in for good measure, including an indictment of the British tabloid culture and an exaggerated valourization of the monarchy (remember, this movie is happening at the same time as the Charles/Diana infidelity scandal and the first public divorce of royal history). Isn’t that whacky? So, right off the bat, this is the kind of movie that doesn’t even work on paper, but alas, this particular movie was one of my childhood go-to’s, and in addition to contributing to my pre-conscious, bizarre idealization of Thatcherite London (and I’m sure anyone who was actually there at the time would laugh a good laugh to hear that), my repeated exposure to this film as a child makes it impossible for me to look at this movie unfavourably. Of course, I can see that it’s not a “good” movie, but I have to defend, nearly to the death, the validity of this kind of middle of the road, campy-with-heart comedy—a comedy with some great escapist realism, let’s say—that is incredibly satisfying in a way similar to Crocodile Dundee, Turner and Hooch, or Splash. All of these are movies with absurd premises, meant to be comedic, but never tipping into the realm of outright “absurdity”; the emotional weight of the characters is never allowed to drift away under the weight of stupid gags. And maybe this is a more subtle reading than these movies deserve, but I think that these films are more successful at delivering the emotional impact through all the jokes than, say, Weekend at Bernie’s, Captain Ron, or other things in that wheelhouse. So maybe “It’s better than Weekend at Bernie’s” isn’t a particularly strong endorsement, but I really feel that, beyond the initial surface reading, the distance of time and maturity has made this film actually really interesting, and not even in a post-viewing/ironic bullshit way or anything. Seriously, why did Americans need a film that humourously throws a wrench into the restrained dignity of the institution of British monarchy, but ultimately asserts the necessity of it? Looking at the box office numbers, most Americans must have thought that they didn’t need such a film, and it has largely been forgotten in the rubbish bin of Goodman’s pre-Lebowski, mid-Roseanne acting resume. But I will always love this film, I will always find its stupid gags really funny, and I will always be captivated by this bizarre mix of ingredients. And besides, this movie has John Hurt hamming up the scenery as a pencil-moustached upper-class villain, Peter O’Toole as a restrained, wise royal courtier (that’s a good gag), and the lovable Richard Griffiths (God rest his eternal soul) doing his thing. And John Goodman as the fucking King of England. How can anyone resist that?

5 responses to “King Ralph (USA, 1991)

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